Meet Karen DeWolfe: Founder of Momthletes

Meet Karen DeWolfe, a mother of three of Corvallis, Oregon. I met Karen in my Canada Cup mountain bike racing days and I still remember how fast she could fly down the hills. I wanted her fearless speed! More recently I have admired from afar how she has started a momthletes group to get moms together to exercise, get fit, connect and have fun! Since I’ve been wanted to learn more about what she does I asked her for an interview to tell us more. Read on for more on the story of momletes, Karen’s vision, goals, and how she and other moms work together to overcome the challenges of getting out for exercise. A great read full of so many tips and great resources!!

(Note: these great photos are courtesy of and to learn more about momthletes visit:


  1. Tell me more about your athletic background and how has it evolved since starting a family?

I grew up in Nova Scotia (eastern Canada) and my Grandfather, my father and uncles were always getting us to do fun little challenges, like diving off cliffs, playground obstacle courses, and all sorts of fun adventures. They really taught me a tremendous amount about overcoming fears and most importantly they knew how to make exercise really fun. My family enjoyed the outdoors together, camping, canoeing and hiking. We all loved riding bikes. We rode everywhere – the candy store, swimming holes, friend’s houses and to town. Being able to ride bikes was freedom. I also ran cross country, did gymnastics, and downhill skied.

In middle school I discovered mountain biking and I loved it. I did my first bike race when I was 16 thanks to a wonderful mentor who taught me and hundreds of people in Nova Scotia how to ride bikes over the years. Then I found another amazing bike community while studying Forestry at the University of New Brunswick. This lead me to my now husband, Matt Betts who helped me take racing to a whole new level. Within two years of meeting him, I was racing Canadian Nationals. The Fredericton bike community included a number of amazing mountain bikers including Peter Wedge, Anna Healy, Eric Goss, Matt Hadley, Geoff and Catherine Pendrel. The Radical Edge bike shop had a huge part in bringing us all together.

I raced mountain bikes at the elite level for much of my twenties.  When I was 26 I had my first baby. I did my first local race 5 weeks after my daughter was born and was racing world cups within 9 months. I also started racing Xterra and was loving that too. Then my daughter suddenly became ill and required hospitalization, blood transfusions and tests. She got better but it took 2 months for her to fully recover. That ended my first season of racing as a mother. My son also had a scary start to life, not breathing for the first 5 minutes of his life. It was unclear if he was going to survive, and if he did survive if he would have brain damage. He made a full recovery.  These two early experiences helped me decide to focus my time primarily on my children.

The first few years with children were hard for me as I had to let a lot of things change. There were days when I felt like I was failing as an athlete and a mother and days when I felt I was doing great. I ran more and biked less. I played with my kids a lot and taught them how to ride everywhere – to the library, preschool, to the candy store.  I still did some mountain bike racing locally and had fun trying some new challenges; 50 – 100 mile mountain bike races, some Xterra events, and my first longer running races, 15-50km distances.

As a family we went hiking and backpacking all over Oregon and travelled to Costa Rica to learn about their father’s amazing world of forest ecology, hummingbirds and flowers. It has been a great life but allowing the athlete in me to change was very difficult.

My oldest daughter is Ava Betts (11) – she hiked a 10,000 volcano with her friends for her 10th birthday last year.

My son is Miles Betts (8)– he is a limit pusher. He could ride his bike 6 miles when he was 3.5. He has a lot of energy.

My youngest is Anna Betts (5) – She is pure sweetness. She is kind and loving and rides her bike a mile to school and back everyday chatting happily most of the time.

2. You’ve started Momthletes, which is devoted to helping mothers fit exercise into their lives. How did the idea for Momthletes come about? 

I had a long standing Thursday Playgroup with a group of women I call my Pro Moms, because they are completely dedicated to their children. Playgroup was a place where our kids could all play together and us Moms could talk about anything we needed to.  When it was time to put my youngest in school, my Playgroup Moms asked me what I was going to do with my new found time. They suggested I help other mothers figure out how to stay fit. They had watched me fit exercise into my life in a “by any means necessary” way over 10 years – running to preschool, biking to playgroup, running to the grocery store, doing intervals with napping babies in the chariot. They suggested other people would want to learn about how I integrated my life as an athlete and a mother. And thus Momthletes was born.

I started with my Playgroup Moms, showing them my ball workout that I use almost exclusively for strength training, and I gave a few women workout programs. We also started the Momthletes Facebook page so we could share our victories and strategies with one another. Then I met another Mom friend out running one day. She told me she wished she could just go for long adventurous runs some day. I told her I was planning on starting a Momthletes class and she said she would be there and would tell others. That began the Momthletes Basic Workout which we are still doing today. We start with body strength exercises on the playground, then run or hike straight up an 800 foot hill and then sit in silence for 3-5 minutes at the top of the hill overlooking our city. We then walk back down and talk about whatever we need to. That wonderful Mother I met running that day can now run a half marathon at the drop of a hat, is raising three beautiful children and is completing her master degree in education.

Now I offer different programs – personal training, mountain bike lessons, and different running classes. I help women organize their homes to make more time and space for exercise, define their goals for exercise and life and create work out schedules that support those goals.  I help women pick out the appropriate equipment for the exercise they are interested.  I also direct them to physical therapist and message therapists if there are issues I think they need help with.  Momthletes Classes bring together a community of women who are dedicated to helping each other reach their goals in exercise and life.  There are a variety of prices and ways to get involved and I am still planning new programs to meet the many needs mothers have.

Momthletes13. What does a typical week of workouts with momthletes look like?

Summer Schedule example:

Monday 6am – Momthletes Basic Training Workout

Monday 9am – Run with Ease (how to make running easier)

Tuesday – Personal Sessions

Wednesday 6am – Trail Running Techniques (how to make hard terrain easier)

Wednesday 9am – Grampy John Family Adventure Day – bike/hike adventures with kids

Friday 6am – Trail Run – 5 miles at a talking pace.

The schedule changes depending on the season. All the workouts are outside. This winter we met every Monday and Friday at 6 am and trail ran in the dark with headlamps and often in the rain. It was not large group but the women who did it reported feeling less seasonal effects and left every workout feeling tough and happy and ready to take on anything, and they do!

momthletes24. In your experience what are the biggest challenges moms have for fitting exercise into their lives?

  1. Finding the Time – There are so many things mothers have to do. Career, housework, educating our children, volunteering, grocery shopping, making healthy meals – the list is endless. Taking time out of that endless list for exercise can seem impossible for moms and dads. But when we stop taking time to care for our bodies and ourselves, these other tasks start getting more and more difficult.
  1. Pain – A lot of women are in pain after they go through a pregnancy and give birth. Our core strength completely changes after pregnancy and this can change how our bodies feel. Then there are all the things we don’t like talking about but need to – tearing, bladder control, even sore breasts can make exercise painful. Figuring out ways of using exercise to make postpartum better and not worse is key to helping women get back on the path to exercise. Sometimes this means prioritizing physiotherapy or massage therapy to become relatively pain free before beginning exercise.
  1. Money – The gym membership, the fancy bike trailer, and other exercise equipment all costs money. There are also all the expenses of having a new baby. One part of Momthletes is trying to help women find inexpensive options for exercise while they are adjusting to all the costs of having children.
  1. Fear – There can be a lot of fear beginning an exercise program. Fear that it will be painful or too hard, that now is not a good time, or that the community will not be kind and accepting. Overcoming fear can really open up a lot of doors in life and fitness.
  1. Support – Sometimes women do not feel like they will have the support they need to begin exercising. Women need support to begin exercise, sometimes in the form of encouragement, the giving of time or financial support to take the steps to get fit. This support needs to come from our partners, community, families and/or friends.


5. What are the biggest factors that help moms to be successful at exercising regularly?

A Strong Community: Having a community of people to exercise with who understand the challenges we face as mothers can really help women fit in exercise regularly. Having people to meet up with and share their knowledge about exercise with one another is invaluable.

Time Management: Mothers have to understand time management. There are so many things we have to do as mothers, it is key to know how our days work in order to fit exercise in. Having a workout plan ahead of time, that takes in consideration all the other roles and duties mothers have can dramatically increase our chances of exercising. I found Seven Habits of Highly Effective People  by Stephen Covey a very helpful resource to teach me how to schedule my time for all my different roles in life.

Household Organization: Having my home in a reasonable amount of order dramatically improves my ability to access my clothes, healthy food and my equipment quickly and easily. Quick transitions can only happen when our things are organized and ready to go. Learning how to have this piece in place was a game changer for me. But it can be difficult to learn how to fit new people into our homes and lives! The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo has added years on to my life.

Getting Help and Fixing Pain – Take care of your pain. Don’t just live with it. There are great physiotherapist and massage therapists. Find out from other athletes and mothers who they trust and get help if you are in pain. Pain is exhausting and can often be fixed with the right help. It can take time to heal but it is worth it.

Low Cost Exercise Options – I highly recommend the Chariot (Thule) or Burley trailers to people. It is a big initial investment but it is a solution to many problems. Bike Trailers and joggers allow mothers to exercise without a gym membership (thinking of it that way, it is paid off in less than one year). We used ours often as transportation. It has served as my family’s second car, saving us a huge amounts of money in gas, car payments, insurance, etc. Plus, it has allowed me to stay fit and teach my children how to stay fit.

The exercise ball is my most valuable piece of exercise equipment (okay, after my mountain bike). You can get a full body workout in your home for $12.

Running is also an inexpensive activity. The Cool Impossible by Eric Orton, has some really great information on running in a way that is easy on the body.

Overcome Fear – There is nothing as scary as having a baby and with that done, what is left to fear? Don’t let fear stop you from doing great things. Find a community of friends to help you see past those fears.  You will help them do the same.

Support – Moms sometimes have to ask for support from their families in order to fit exercise in. I find most families are excited to see their partners/mothers out exercising and it makes everyone in the family feel inspired. When we learn to take care of ourselves we can take care of everyone else much more effectively.

6. What are the biggest things you’ve learned since starting your group?

  1. That I will never stop learning.
  2. I can learn from everyone around me.
  3. I am constantly gaining a deeper understanding of how important exercise is.
  4. Every mother out there has an inner athlete that is amazing and unlimited.


7. How do you hope momthletes will continue to grow and evolve in the future?

Team Momthletes – I would like to see an official team of inspiring mothers of all abilities levels doing the adventures, and races they dream of. There is already a Facebook page for sharing ideas, races, stories and information. I would like to find sponsors and support mothers making their athletic dreams happen.

Momthletes Non-Profit – Fun activities for families will be used as fundraisers and the money raised goes to various organizations that are doing great work. This has begun this summer with Grampy John Days – adventures in memory of my grandfather, my first great coach. We bike around the city to fun locations (including the candy store).

Momthletes LLC – I would like to see Momthletes LLC continue to grow. I love working with my clients and watching what happens in my classes when women work together towards their goals. I also love seeing mothers reconnect with their bodies and discover their unlimited potential. I would like to begin thinking about working with clients online in the coming year.

Momthletes Retreats – The first retreat is taking place this summer. The retreat is based out of Oakridge, Oregon and we will be taking advantage of the town’s incredible mountain bike and trail running system, including a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail leading to the Diamond Peak volcano. My goal is to have more retreats (Costa Rica, Bend, OR) and bring amazing women together to travel to other inspiring places and share each others talents.

8. Anything else you would like to add (tips, insights etc)?

Exercise is more than exercise. There is no separation between body and mind. When our bodies get stronger, our minds get stronger. As our bodies learn endurance, we learn endurance in our lives. Being able to endure the hard parts of life means we are able to hold on and get back to better times. But mostly exercise is just a lot of fun. And it helps you look healthy and nice. And you meet great people.

When we take care of our bodies we can take care of all the other bodies in our lives.

Move with your children. Use exercise as transportation, save the gas, earn your calories, and teach your kids how to stay fit and healthy. In my town, it often doesn’t take much more time to move by bike or foot. Then once I get to a location – grocery store, library, playdate, I have my stroller there already. If babies are sleeping, they can just stay asleep while I get errands done. The chariot was the best investment I made as a parent.

Get outdoors – it is hard to be sad for a long time outdoors. Try it. The outdoors will absorb your hard feelings and return you to a better place.

Keep moving, keep exercising. Balance it with your love for your children. Sometimes it is okay to change, slow down, speed up, switch sports, join a band. You may find you are just rediscovering other parts of yourself that were there all along as well. Let yourself explore your life.

Someone told me this fact about butterflies. When caterpillars enter into chrysalis they completely dissolve, then reassemble the liquefied caterpillar molecules into the butterfly. I think this is what happens to us when we become mothers. We liquefy and change dramatically – but with the proper conditions and time we reassemble all our original parts and emerge as something even more beautiful.







Merging the athlete-motherhood identity

My story as the “athlete” began as the only 9 year old girl on a soccer team full of younger boys. There was also one boy on the team who was two years younger, my brother Geoff. With no girls soccer teams at that time growing up in a then small town: Courtenay, B.C. on Vancouver Island, the boy’s team was my only option. I guess it was also convenient for my parents that my brother was skilled enough to play up an age group and have us both on the same team. A little further up the island was a girl my age, Tricia, who was also playing on her younger brother’s team. I felt some solidarity with her at the time and we later became friends and school teammates in volleyball, basketball and track in junior and high school.

1985 soccer

My second year playing with the boys, second from left back row. My brother in centre of second row, and my bearded dad as one of the coaches

I don’t remember particularly loving soccer and I never played it to the level or passion of my friend Tricia, but I did it anyway, and had a few crushes on my teammates along the way 🙂 . It also prepared me physically well for my first real sport love when I discovered running on the track by 6th grade.

Through positive role modeling and support from my family, teachers, and coaches growing up I adopted the belief that I could pursue sport as long as I wanted to. However, I knew education and having a family were also important to me. I still distinctly remember giving myself a competitive timeline as a young runner; I would plan to run track competitively until I was 30 years old, that was my cut off to discover any potential I had.

As time went, I only ran seriously on the track until the age of 23 before moving on to cross-country mountain bike racing and then (mainly off-road) triathlon before finally shedding the largely consuming identity of “competitive athlete” one decade and two children later than I had predicted. I believe I had the age of 30 as a stopping point in my head when I was young because I equated having children with the end of the athlete identity and the start of the motherhood identity.

Fortunately I had the epiphany that my athlete identity did not need to end when my motherhood identity began, and I am thankful for all the support I have received to be able to merge the two. Just as the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child, it also takes a village beyond the nuclear family to support, encourage and give mothers the space and opportunity to keep exercising and competing if they so desire. And now I’m thrilled to see more and more women balancing motherhood/family /career and other obligations with physical activity and competitive athletic goals at any level from recreational to the elite/professional level.

I’m grateful that now in 2016 young all-girls soccer teams are thriving on northern Vancouver Island and elsewhere, and that females can do most any sport they’d like to at the same level as males. Thanks to the work over time of organizations like Team LUNA ChixWomen’s Sports Organization, Fast and Female, the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women in Sport and Physical Activity (CAAWS),  and ZGiRLS to name a few, girls and women can find encouragement, support and community to pursue sport and continue to pursue athletic goals through education, careers, and motherhood.

I’m happy that my epiphany is now more and more commonplace 10 years later!



5 ways to manage athlete-mom guilt


“I’m going now. I’ll be back sometime after 7:00”

“Okay, no rush”

And with those words from my husband something in me relaxed a little more as I headed out on an evening mountain bike ride with a friend. As I mentioned in an earlier post, without the justification that I was training for a race, I’d let my riding time slide. While part of the reason was that life was just busier, another part of me felt guilty spending a few hours on my bike every so often when it took more time away from family or work.

Whether it be a run, a bike ride, a bootcamp, yoga, a soccer game,  or anything else that gets you out the door and moving it is important to do what makes you happy, energizes you, de-stresses you, and brings you back home a better person than when you left.

When I was first fitting in workouts as a new mom, my transitions from and to exercising were probably faster than they ever were in my triathlon races. I would worry about how my precious young daughter was doing while I was gone, and rush back home as soon as I could, guilty that she was starving or crying without me there. I relaxed a little more when my son came along, took time to enjoy a post-workout shower, and have learned to value the importance and ability of others to take good care of my kids. Now that my kids are a little older and more independent (6 and 8 years old), I’ve realized even more how important it is to continue to include guilt-free exercise in my routine consistently at any age and stage. Here are my two cents worth of tips for what helps to stay successful at it so far….

  1. Balance quality with quantity: As someone who loves endurance sport, training takes time. As most of us don’t have hours upon hours every day to devote to exercise, pick at least one day (or a few if you have time) per week that you can devote more time to exercise or add in some additional guilt-free socializing around exercise. Take the extra time for a post-workout stretch or coffee with friends. Other days you might only be able to squeeze in 20-30 minutes of exercise and that’s okay too, especially when you have the longer days to look forward to. I find balancing my needs to exercise with family/work needs on a week to week basis works best. Even if you love getting your workout in, feeling you have to get in a maximum amount in every day of the week to make it worth it can have to potential to leave you more frustrated than satisfied.
  2. Workout with friends or a group at least 50% of the time. I was just at a motivation conference this past weekend, and one researcher presented on how postpartum women were most successful at maintaining exercise when it involved exercising with others at least 50% of the time, as opposed to exercising on their own all the time. On top of the social support of meeting a friend or a group, it gives you permission to exercise control over your training. If you’ve agreed to meet a friend or go to the training group/class you signed up for you’ll be less likely to delay getting out the door by starting a new load of laundry, writing a few more emails or dealing with a kid squabble instead of getting out the door.
  3. Be timely. Adding on to the point above, notice what times of day you feel best working out as well as how you feel afterwards. I know when I get the chance I love to do a workout first thing in the morning as it energizes me, puts me in a better and more productive mood, and perhaps most importantly increases my patience threshold with my kids, the rest of the day. On the flip side, balancing enough sleep with getting up at the crack of dawn can be tough. Some days a lunch time or early evening workout works best. Like the above points some variety in the daily routine, who is involved and timing can keep things motivating, exciting, and fun. This way, I also get to spend different times of the day with my family and not miss all mornings or all evenings for example.
  4. Let go of being the perfect parent. Everyone has their own perspective on this point but there is a lot of pressure to be the perfect parent these days. What is meant by that is individual and can change daily depending on whose advice you take, but I find when I give myself permission to leave the house a mess some days, or let my kids entertain themselves for a while (even – gasp – watch TV), while I do a workout nearby, the world doesn’t end and everyone stays happy.
  5. Make the choice to exercise guilt-free. This may sound overly simple but my favourite online yoga video instructor says, “BE WHERE YOU’RE AT”. What makes working out so good for us is the ability to disconnect, and recharge with a simple minded focus for that period of your day. Take control of your “me-time” and own it. Just like while you can’t be two places physically at once, focus on only being in one place mentally at a time, enjoy focusing only on your time to move, recharge mentally, stay healthy and get strong!


Motivation and Momentum through Motherhood

Yesterday afternoon I was kitted up to ride. Then I dozed off on the couch while my kids played noisily around me. My legs were still hurting from the previous day’s running intervals on the track. It felt so good to just lie still for a while and close my eyes. I could have stayed there and skipped the day’s planned intervals on the bike and had a nice dinner with my family. No one would know or care, and my coach is afar in Calgary. But because I hate the feeling of quitting, I finally got up, had a little coffee to get me going and jumped in the saddle. The week’s intensity had added up and it was one of the toughest workouts I’ve done in a while, physically and mentally.

I believe I’ve been an athlete long enough to know when throwing a day of training out is a good idea, and a rather smart idea in the overall scheme of things. But I also know when I just need to suck it up, take it one step, or interval at a time, and just see if I can do it. And I did it! It feels good, and such days put mental toughness in the bank! Especially after those low moments now and then, when I say, “Why am I still doing this?!”

Seven years ago this month, I won the athlete lottery and was welcomed on the Luna Pro team at the annual team camp aka take a few photos and get spoiled rotten with racing gear. My daughter Zoé was six months old and it was the beginning of, “lets see how this training and racing things goes again after bringing a child into the world”. And here I still am, two children later, and a year away from 40! Really?! Since then I’ve always told myself I will race as long as I’m still motivated, still having fun, and it still works with my values of balancing it with my family. Thanks to the incredible support of the Luna team and my family, I can continue to say yes to all of the above.

March 2008

March 2008

Photo during first Luna team camp in March 2008

Photo during first Luna team camp in March 2008

I know I won’t race for Luna forever (well maybe, some of our team members have outstanding longevity – very inspiring!) or always race Pro, but I’ve learned I love training, pushing whatever my current limits are, and setting racing goals to motivate me. I know it is a lifestyle that I won’t easily give up. I’ll never be content to turn into a couch potato or just exercise 20 minutes a day in my athletic “retirement”.

I’ve also learned to appreciate all the advantages and positives of coming back to training and competition on the other side of childbirth. The first thing I learned was how much energy training gave me back! The demanding first blurry eyed months with a newborn left me feeling more like napping than getting out the door to train. But I was surprised often at how good I did feel once I got going. You are stronger than you think new moms!

Making Racing a Family Affair, July 2011

Making Racing a Family Affair, July 2011

Through ballooning up with twice with two very healthy sized babes in my belly, losing all my core strength and then starting all over again to get my fitness back I’ve learned a little more patience. And that getting back into race shape is most about how you feel, and the satisfaction of having strength, stamina, and speed come back through persistence, and plain hard work. I may never have a flat, six-pack again, such a goal is so passé anyways isn’t it?. It’s not about the numbers on the scale (best to throw that out!), or that go in your mouth – just eat often and well enough to nourish yourself and be reasonable with the treats is my motto. The only numbers I focus on are the training numbers my Coach Cal pushes me to shoot for, without him I would be deferring to my naturally lazy side, ha!

Many ask – how do you do it with kids? To be honest, I don’t know how I would still be doing it without kids at this stage of my life. My kids continually rejuvenate my motivation, put everything in perspective, and give more purpose to everything I do. They teach me to stay in the moment of everyday and focus on what is most important. They are what get me out of bed early in the morning to train so I have more time in the day to spend with them. While my body is stiffening up more with each passing year, Zoe and Nico have stretched me to grow in every way possible, and are my biggest cheering squad!

My fast growing kids, March 2014

My fast growing kids, March 2014

Thinking of getting active again? Thoughts on getting back in shape after having kids

Reasons not to start exercising again:

I’m not getting enough sleep yet, my baby might need to nurse while I’m gone, I might miss a critical developmental “moment” in my child(rens) life, I should really take the little extra time I have to clean the house, do laundry, cook etc instead, it will be depressing to see how much fitness I’ve lost as compared to pre-kids, what if I still don’t lose the baby weight, I’ll feel guilty taking more time to myself on top of work etc, I might not fit in my workout clothes yet, I’m a mom now and my priorities have changed, I want to be available to my kids and family 24-7, I can’t afford a babysitter, I can’t afford a gym pass, I don’t have time, I’ll wait until the weather improves, I’ll wait until the kid(s) are just a little bit older, what if my body has not fully recovered from childbirth, it might hurt my milk-filled boobs, I feel guilty leaving the kids with anyone else but me, what if I can’t keep up to my previous training partners, kids take every last ounce of my energy, when it comes to exercise its all or nothing for me, baby steps are for babies, I’d rather take a nap

Reasons to get out the door and exercise again:

I just want to get moving! ! Healthy mom = happy mom = happy family!

Implementing Core Intentions

Well, if there is one thing you learn after childbirth, when you get exercising again, it is how much you use all those small core muscles to stabilize everything! After both kids were born, when I first started running again it felt like I was running with a jelly belly! It took at least six months each time until I felt everything was holding together solidly again when running, especially during speed work! And if you’re not strong from the core, it can lead to a bodily chain reaction of nagging pains or injuries in other areas. I came back quicker than ever after having my son and suffered some achilles problems for a bit as a consequence of a weakened core.

Every season, I have intentions of doing more core work as it is the foundation to having proper technique, strength, power and stamina in any sport. I realized this importance while mountain biking in the early months after having Nico as well, my back was often sore as it was doing all the work to stabilize me on the bike!

While I had a good start to regular core work as I began my winter training recently, as I write this I have fallen off the core wagon again! Unless I count all the box lifting I’ve done while moving houses the past week – and that’s my time excuse too, ha! My goal is to do regular core work 2-3 times per week for a minimum of 15 minutes. It doesn’t sound like much and as important as I recognize it to be, when the business of life and training sets in, and when I’m healthy and taking being injury-free for granted, core work is unfortunately the first thing to get dropped from my schedule. Oh, did I say schedule? Part of getting it done would be to put it in my schedule to start with! I’ve always liked the ring of “implementation intentions” an academic term related to the research of effective goal setting that means going beyond having the goal (or intention) to do something and planning the steps for how you will implement it – to consider where you will do it, how you will do it, when you will do it, with whom you will do it etc.

For now, I will focus on the how. Here are some of my favourite ways to work on core strength with enough variety to keep it interesting from week to week…

1. Swiss Ball Exercises. Coach (brother) Geoff put me on this program when I first started mountain biking. I do 10-20 repetitions of sit ups, right and left side sit ups (is this the right term?), back extensions, hamstring curls, and ball roll ups (from plank position with hands on the floor bring your knees up into your chest with the ball under the top of your feet) continuously rotating through each exercise for 10-15 minutes. Or build up to 45 minutes for a real trunk stamina challenge!

2. P90X. I’ve never been a huge fan of exercise DVD’s but my dad got into P90X and introduced it to me in the summer. The guy (Tony) is motivating and not annoying to listen to. Every exercise has a countdown timer too. My two favourites are Ab Ripper X, a solid and tough 15 minute core routine or if you have more time, the core synergistics workout is a good one that involves more dynamic and functional work with light weights and bands.

3. The Timer Mix. I set my watch to beep every minute and just rotate through any core exercises I can think for 10-15 minutes or more. Using a combination of ab work, planks, push-ups, side leg lifts, arm and leg work with resistance bands, the time goes by amazingly fast.

4. Yoga. In the past I’ve attended instructed classes, but since kids any “luxury time” to do yoga is usually with a DVD at home. On of my favourites is Baron Baptiste’s beginner Yoga workout. Unlike many yoga workouts that take well over an hour, this one takes 40 minutes and includes all the essential poses with a good core workout to finish it off. I love yoga for all the other things you can work on at the same time as well such as relaxation, breathing, mindfulness, and flexibility

5. Pilates. Not one of my faves because I’ve yet to try it but I must add it to the list as I’ve heard this is a great workout for core strength!

Is breastfeeding performance enhancing?

You’re still breastfeeding?! I get this question a lot. Zoe breastfed until just before two years old, and Nico is still going strong and feeds on-demand at 15 months. Whenever he pleases, the “dairy queen” is always open, ha! I don’t proclaim to be a “lactivist” and I certainly can appreciate the difficulties my friends and many women have with breastfeeding be it milk production, ongoing latching difficulties, scheduling with returning to work, or any other obstacles that make continued breastfeeding more stressful than pleasurable for mommy or baby or both!

I have one athletic friend, who said, “My body didn’t feel completely normal again until I stopped breastfeeding.” I can’t say I’ve experienced the same. And other than the 9 months plus I was pregnant with Nico, I’ve spent 3 out of the past 4 years breastfeeding while training and competing. In fact, I’ve even found it even has the ability to enhance performance and here are my top reasons why….

1. Motivation to set personal bests. In the first six months you may set some personal training and racing bests because you’ll be worried your infant will starve if you don’t get back to them in time!

2. Extra rest and recovery time. You can sneak in some extra and valuable downtime while breastfeeding, with a great excuse to put your feet up for 10 minutes or more, ahhhh…..You can say “Sorry ‘husband’, I can’t help with dinner (or whatever else) right now, ‘baby’ is nursing”….”Sorry, ‘other child(ren)’, can’t play etc right now, ‘baby’ is nursing.” Its also an easy way to calm your child and help them get to sleep easier! Plus the hormones oxytocin and prolactin are released which make mommy feel more relaxed!

3. You can eat for two! I know many jokingly say this while pregnant, but I’ve found “eating for two” is truly more appropriate while breastfeeding and exercising, especially during the second year of breastfeeding! Breastfeeding moms can burn an extra 300-500 calories a day. I’ve never been as lean as I have while breastfeeding. And I do not really have to watch what I eat! As long as I’m breastfeeding while training regularly maintaining race weight hasn’t been a problem, particularly in year two, perhaps due to the increased fat content of the milk as explained by the following quote found on….

“Human milk expressed by mothers who have been lactating for >1 year has significantly increased fat and energy contents, compared with milk expressed by women who have been lactating for shorter periods. During prolonged lactation, the fat energy contribution of breast milk to the infant diet might be significant.”
— Mandel 2005

4. You may continue to increase your pain tolerance. As most mom’s experience, once baby turns into a teething toddler, these little nursing munchkins like to practice their acrobatic moves, “twiddling” the side they are not feeding from, and occasionally chomping down with their teeth! Yeowww!

5. It enhances baby’s performance! You can be motivated by the fact that a few months or years of your life spent breastfeeding can go a long way for baby. Research has shown breastfeeding children benefit nutritionally, are sick less often, have fewer allergies, and are well-adjusted socially. Extensive research has also linked duration of breastfeeding to cognitive achievement!

6. It enhances mother’s health factors. Mom’s who breastfeed past infancy reduce the risk of breast, ovarian, uterine, and endometrial cancers. Breastfeeding also protects against osteoporosis, reduces the risk of rheumatoid arthritis, and can help moms lose weight easier (as already mentioned).

7. Appearance enhancement! Finally, for those of us who are born not so well-endowed, as long as we breastfeed it is just plain enhancing! 😉

I also enjoyed a similar post by Brandi earlier this year, as her son’s “boobie time” came to a close. Click here to read.

Motherhood motivation to keep moving!

My most recent running interval session was hard 800m repeats with very little rest. Often during such tough workouts, I say to myself at least once, why am I still putting myself through training that hurts so much?! Then I remind myself to refocus and just get through it one interval at a time. I also think about how satisfying the nice leisurely paced cool down jog will be if I hit all my pace times or even better! When I have temporary moments of self-doubt about why I continue to train and race or on the days when others make me feel like an oddball and say, ‘when are you going to slow down?!’, I remind myself of all the reasons that keep me pushing the pace….

1. Life is too short! When I was twenty it felt like I had an eternity of years ahead of me to train and compete. As the years roll by faster and faster, especially since my children have come along, I take being healthy, injury-free and simply having the time and support to get out and train and enter races less and less for granted. I do it because I can! And I will continue to keep fitness a priority at some level as long as my body allows me too!

2. I really do love it (most of the time!) After 25 years of year round training and competing I can admit how much I truly enjoy the athletic lifestyle! With the odd time off from injury and breaks from hard training during pregnancy, I’ve realized that I do enjoy pushing hard and testing myself in competitive races! For me personally, just going easy all the time can’t compete with the endorphin-high following a hard training session or race! Also, nothing compares to those moments of total absorption I experience while riding sweet single track on a mountain bike, during a run that feels effortless, or a swim where I feel like everything clicks!

3. I like doing something that scares me at least once per week! Training and regularly pushing my mental and physical limits is thrilling and makes me feel more alive! Coach Cal regularly throws workouts at me that make me wonder how I’m going to get through them. I may fear the intensity level or the length of the workout, but once I break it down and get through them it feels amazing and they are always money in the confidence bank! The same goes for things like riding a scary technical trail on my mountain bike, open water swimming in new conditions, entering a new race, conquering a new race distance, or getting in shape again after a baby. Every new barrier that is pushed is a motivational growth-spurt! So just go for it, what is the worst that can happen?!

4. The social bonds of sweating together! Some of my best friendships have developed through running, cycling, and now “triathloning” together with others. There is something about running, cycling, skiing, or racing along side others that forges bonds of friendship quickly! As a busy mom, it also kills two birds with one stone – socializing and working out at the same time! While at least half of my training is done solo if I didn’t have at least a few social training sessions per week my motivation would drop pretty quickly!

5. The satisfaction of setting and meeting goals! Improving is always fun! Even though my speed and endurance will eventually diminish over time, I still get excited by working on improving my swim technique, technical skills on my bike, flexibility for running, and ways to train, eat, and recover better. I’m lucky to have a coach that is creative and keeps training fun with lots of variety and new ideas. For those of us that compete, time spent racing is only a small percentage of our time spent in any given sport. Enjoying the daily training performance victories are just as important as meeting race day goals for long term motivation!

6. Role modeling an active lifestyle to my kids. Being a role model is a bonus motivation for me to stay active. My husband and I want to be able to be active alongside our kids in whatever activities they enjoy growing up. I also admire my parents physical fitness levels now in their mid-sixties, an age where taking care of yourself over time really starts to pay big dividends! I love the fact that I can still go for a mountain bike ride with my dad now, and he really doesn’t slow me down much at all! All my favorite coaches have been people who compete themselves, have trained with their athletes and so have motivated me through their role modeling.

Practicing Mommy Mindfulness

On a very busy day with kids everywhere at a downtown park the other day my “mommy GPS brain”, now apparently strengthened with improved wiring for sight, sound, and movement felt overloaded. I was trying to keep up with Nico, the escape artist, who likes to run off in any direction as fast as he can, and only laughs and runs away faster and farther when I call his name. The ever more sociable Zoe happily goes off and plays with whoever she can find at the park. Finally, I was also trying to keep an eye on our parked stroller and bags off in another direction.

The playground experience reminded me how tracking our children constantly is just one more skill women naturally aquire for our constantly multitasking brains! And perhaps the best way to prevent ourselves from experiencing multitasking meltdowns is to take time to practice mindfulness and turn perceived chaos into calm. I like the definition of mindfulness by John Kabat-Zinn, a famous teacher of mindfulness meditation and the founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center:

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; On purpose, in the present moment, and

I have tried to put the art of “keeping my consciousness alive to the present reality” (Thich Nhat Hanh) into practice not only in day to day tasks but also while training or competing. Here are some examples…

1. Mindfulness while exercising. For me, working on being mindful of what I’m doing comes most easily while training. With workouts planned and a coach to help set the training goals, the purpose behind each training session is already in place. Then I work on having something to focus on for each part of my workout with no more than one or two things at a time.  For example in the pool depending on the part of the workout I may be focusing on my stroke technique, my stroke turnover, or just going all out and not worrying about technique at all. Running intervals are still some of my toughest training sessions to get through. I might focus on staying relaxed, breathing deep, or turning my legs over fast, and just take it one interval distance at a time! While the high intensity and high quality workouts often take very specific and high mental focus to get through, I also try to be mindful of completely enjoying the easier workouts when I can just go with the flow. For example, on long easy runs or rides, I enjoying just go the pace my body wants to go without paying too much attention to gadget information like heart rate, pace, cadence, or watts.

2. Mindfulness with day-to-day work or tasks. About a year ago, I took a two-day workshop on meditation with a team I work with. We worked on breathing, sitting, staying in the moment, and just observing our thoughts and physical sensations without judgement for three hours each session. It was tough and very difficult not to let my mind wander to thinking about what I was going to do later or other distracting thoughts. Just like training your muscles for endurance or strength over weeks and months of physcial training, taking time to be mindful for even one hour, let alone 5 minutes, during a day takes practice! Some simple examples are eating a meal slowly and savoring every bite, being completely present in a conversation and really listening to what someone is saying to you, or just washing the dishes with complete awareness of washing the dishes.

3. Mindfulness with your children. In the age of constant communication it is hard not to become a “crackberry mom”, you know the moms who are constantly on their phone or blackberry while at the park, in the mall etc. I see them everywhere and the only reason I haven’t be prone to it is that my phone is so old school that I don’t even have a keyboard and hate texting….for now! I think as mothers these days we need to be displicined enough to realize that every e-mail, phone call, or text message does not need to be answered immediately. We don’t have to be available to the outside world 24-7. Often when I’m with my kids, especially in the house, I can get distracted by wanting to get a million things done. But I strive to be organized enough that when I have time to just hang out with my kids I can be fully present to read a story, get down on the ground and just play, or just go to a park and be fully engaged in having fun with them!

Pregnancy: Motivation to Exercise for Two!

Although, I’m 99.9% sure I’m done with being pregnant, I’ve been asked quite often about training during pregnancy so I’ve been meaning to write a little about it while it is still somewhat fresh in my mind. If you are pregnant, or thinking of becoming pregnant and want to keep in shape, here are my top recommendations and motivational reasons to stay active over the nine months while you feel more and more like a beached whale 🙂

1. Read the book, “Exercising Through Your Pregnancy” by Dr James F. Clapp, M. D. He did some great studies of pregnant women from the non-active, recreational to the competitive and the book is packed full of great, solid research, and informational guidelines to follow. I’ve read it through 2-3 times, and some of my following points are based on the juicy details of studies you’ll find in this book. The book is an older one but I’ve found nothing recent that compares and most of the research and recommendations are timeless anyway.

2. Consider yourself in training for labour. You’ll increase your chances of a shorter, less complicated labour and chances of a quicker recovery. When you consider the average length of active labour is 2-4 hours, then a little extra stamina and endurance can only help! Getting to active labour isn’t always smooth sailing and pain free either! While predicting how any one labour will go or feel is about as reliable as your daily horoscope, like any unknown, the best you can do is prepare yourself as well as you can. Part of that is preparing your body physically for a possible ultramarathon painful intervals!

3. Keep moving because you’ll feel better. While I was lucky to never be physically sick for both pregnancies I did feel just plain “ugh” those first months and found that a workout always helped the feeling go away for a bit and helped me to sleep well a night. Swimming, which I did until the day of going in labour, felt so good for taking a load off while also keeping the circulation going!

4. You can increase your chances of delivering earlier at term. In the book mentioned above, 72% women in the “vigorous exercise group” who exercised an average of 71% of their prepregnancy levels of exercise before their due date versus 48% of “active control group” = rarely engaged in sustained exercise but occasionally played tennis, walked, gardened etc delivered earlier at term (later than 37 weeks). This rang true for me as Zoe came 5 days early and Nico came 7 days early. And those last couple of weeks are often the most tiresome!

5. You’ll stimulate better than average placental growth and funcational capacity. For exercising women the placenta grows almost a third faster by midpregnancy and has 15 percent more vessels and surface area at term – this also explains why stopping exercise in midpregnancy produces a bigger baby! Even just exercising 3 times per week for 20 minutes moderately hard to hard perceived exertion throughout midpregnancy is enough to see this difference.

6. Your baby can benefit. Babies of exercising women tolerate the stresses of late pregnancy, labor, and delivery better. Babies born of exercising women did better on a standard intelligence test at one year of age, and again at 5 years of age as well as remaining lean and scoring higher on oral language skills (when matched for mother’s physical activity after the birth and working outside the home, as well as sex, birth order, general health, breast-feeding, estimated caloric intake, family recreation profile, and type of childcare).

7. You have a better chance of having a lighter, “lean and mean” baby. Average birth weight for babies in exercise group in the book above was 14 ounces lighter (7 pounds 2 ounces versus 8 pounds). Exercising moms had babies who grew their brains, organs, muscles, and bones at same rate as non-exercising moms but babies didn’t get as fat in the process. In other words they were born lean and mean! The amount of exercise a woman did in late pregnancy increased the lean and mean effect so don’t slow down too much at the end! My babes were 8 and 9 pounds so they weren’t lighter, but they definitely weren’t too chubby!

8. You’ll gain less weight and deposit less fat. Pregnancy is definitely not a time to count calories or go on diets but exercise can help lessen the chances of excess weight gain. It also allows you to use that, “I’m eating for two” excuse more often 🙂 Continuing to exercise towards the end of pregnancy also can give you a great appreciation for what carrying extra weight can feel like and not take your regular weight for granted!

9. You may give yourself a postpartum competitive edge. Although highly variable between women, the thermal and cardovascular changes of pregnancy persist afterwards to a significant degree. The improved ability to dissipate heat along with higher stroke volume may account for some athletes improved performances after childbirth. For example, I read that during pregnancy blood plasma volume increases by 40-50%, red cell mass increases by 20-30%, cardiac output increases 30-40%, and the size of the heart increases by about 12%!! Lots of great advantages for an active mom and baby to make the most of!!

10. Let your body be your training guide! Finally, as a reminder of the importance of changing your training expectations in pregnancy here is an excerpt from a blog on our Luna Chix website that I wrote at 7 months pregnant with Nico:

“Currently I go out for a run that feels more like a plodding fast shuffle. Walking up stairs is as much of a workout as running up them used to be. I no longer even look at my swim splits in the pool. I feel the same tiredness after an hour of cycling that I normally would after three hours on the bike. Even bending over, putting on socks, and picking up my two and half year old daughter takes way more effort. But I don’t mind, it feels so good just to get out and get moving whenever I have the chance. While I originally had visions of keeping up my regular training program to high degree, I’ve relearned how much energy growing a baby actually takes and to readjust my “training” expectations.”

Mountain biking at 7 months pregnant with Zoe